Did you hear the oral arguments about Proposition 8 last week in the Supreme Court? Not just the sound bites, but the whole thing? If not, go ahead and listen to it now. The audio is on C-SPAN’s website.
(OK, you can skip the first 10 minutes; they’re pretty dull.)
Did you listen to it? I’ll wait. Seriously, this is worth your time. You get to hear the best legal arguments on both sides, history in the making, and Justice Elena Kagan cracking up the audience by explaining how babies are and aren’t made.
For those of you who oppose legal recognition of same-sex marriages, upon listening to the recording, did you feel heartened that your side will win? What did you think about the performance of your man in the room, plaintiff’s counsel Charles Cooper? He summed up his argument early on:
“The concern is that redefining marriage as a genderless institution will sever its abiding connection to its historic traditional procreative purposes, and it will refocus, refocus the purpose of marriage and the definition of marriage away from the raising of children and to the emotional needs and desires of adults, of adult couples.”
Like it or not, this is the essential case your team is making in front of the highest court in the land. And you don’t have to be a constitutional scholar to poke holes in it. Several of the justices have already asked the obvious rhetorical question: What about heterosexual couples who can’t have children, whether because of old age or sterility? Or, as Justice Stephen Breyer puts it more eloquently: “What precisely is the way in which allowing gay couples to marry would interfere with the vision of marriage as procreation of children that allowing sterile couples of different sexes to marry would not?”
It’s even harder to argue that marriage is strictly about babies than it is to argue that sex is strictly about babies. And I don’t just mean that from a worldly, legal perspective. I mean it as a Christian (Just read the Song of Solomon). Show me a married couple that is only staying together for the sake of their kids, and I’ll show you a couple headed for divorce.
My wife and I listened to the oral arguments while cooking dinner together, and two-thirds of the way through, she asked, “Why are we even having this discussion?” My wife is the type of person who doesn’t like to waste time with weak arguments. And the arguments propping up Prop 8 are so weak, it’s only a matter of time before that law and others like it end up in the scrap heap of ill-conceived and ill-defended American ideas. Two successive California governors — one a Republican, one a Democrat — have refused to defend its constitutionality. The Supreme Court might very well decide to kick the can down the road this time, since Justice Anthony Kennedy has already wondered aloud whether the case ought to have been sent up to SCOTUS, but sooner or later, Prop 8 is toast.
But what, you ask, about the effect of same-sex households on the development of children? By allowing same-sex couples to raise children, aren’t we entering “uncharted waters,” as Kennedy has argued? Sure we are. Psychiatric research hasn’t said anything definitive yet about the effects of growing up with two moms or two dads. One 2005 article in the academic journal The Future of Children looked at existing studies and said that children growing up in households with same-sex parents “are doing about as well as children normally do.” A study published in 1992 in Child Development found that “there is no evidence that the development of children with lesbian or gay parents is compromised in any significant respect relative to that among children of heterosexual parents in otherwise comparable circumstances.” And here’s one from the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry back in 1983: Researchers compared kids raised in lesbian households to kids raised in heterosexual single-parent households, and they found that “they did not differ on most measures of emotions, behavior, and relationships — although there was some indication of more frequent psychiatric problems in the single-parent group.”
Justice Kennedy, a conservative judge who sometimes acts as the SCOTUS’ swing voter, seemed reticent to accept the what-about-the-children argument in this case, saying:
“I think there’s — there’s substantial — that there’s substance to the point that sociological information is new. We have five years of information to weigh against 2,000 years of history or more. On the other hand, there is an immediate legal injury or legal — what could be a legal injury, and that’s the voice of these children. There are some 40,000 children in California, according to the Red Brief, that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don’t you think?”
Take away the legal arguments, and you’re left with the real reason why so many of my Christian conservative friends continue to oppose marriage equality: The Bible.
I’m not here to caricature you as a bigot, because I was in your shoes, feeling your outrage, writing your opinion columns just a few years ago. I know that when you say you hate the sin but love the sinner, you really do mean it. And I do believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and I’ve read — and re-read, and re-re-read — the handful of Christian scriptures that appear to deal with homosexuality. But nowhere are we told as Christians to enforce the law of God outside the church. No doubt plenty of your friends have rebuffed you with this on Facebook, but it bears repeating: Marriage in the church is separate from marriage in the eyes of the state, and no one is going to force your church to marry same-sex couples.
If we are called to legislate God’s plan for the world, then why isn’t there an impassioned movement to overhaul divorce law in the United States? In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ himself condemned divorce “except on the ground of sexual immorality.” And since “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” and since it’s better to lose a member than to have your whole body thrown into hell, why haven’t we started a campaign of plucking out our neighbors’ wandering eyes? Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, which also had its time in the Supreme Court last week, are nothing short of Christian sharia.
One final objection that I’ve heard more than a few times from Christian brothers and sisters: What about Sodom? Did not the God of Israel destroy that wicked city for its sexual depravity? Well, no, we don’t know that. The book of Genesis describes a whole litany of problems with the inhabitants of Sodom, among them cruelty to strangers and a culture that condoned rape. We don’t know God’s motives, but we do know the words that the prophet Ezekiel brought on the topic: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.”
Indeed, what about Sodom?